What's in a Name? 'Jihad' vs. 'Hiraba'
What's in a name? When it comes to identifying what we are fighting against in the war for our civilization, quite a lot. Members of a movement among military and intellectual circles want to avoid asserting that we are fighting against "jihad" because that term is loaded with religious significance in Islam, replacing it with "hiraba", to highlight the criminal nature of Islamic terrorists:
The good holy war is when the right religious and political authorities declare it against the correct enemy and at the right time. The bad jihad, called also Hiraba, is the wrong war, declared by bad (and irresponsible) people against the wrong enemy (for the moment), and without an appropriate authorization by the "real" Muslim leadership. According to this thesis, those Muslims who wage a Hiraba, a wrong war, are called Mufsidoon, from the Arabic word for "spoilers." The advocates of this ruse recommend that the United States and its allies stop calling the jihadists by that name and identifying the concept of Jihadism as the problem. In short, they argue that "jihad is good, but the Mufsidoon, the bad guys and the terrorists, spoiled the original legitimate sense."
I limit my discussion in this paper to domestic terrorism because a discussion of international terrorism would take us into the complicated issue of extraterritoriality and the question of the applicability of Islamic law outside the lands of Islam, an issue on which the jurists differed widely. (p. 306)
Close examination of the classical Islamic law of hirabah, however, reveals that this law corresponds in its most salient features to domestic terrorism in the American legal system. This holds despite a number of important differences between hirabah and domestic terrorism. First, the importance of the political motivations of would-be terrorists appears to be inversely proportional in the two systems. Whereas the pursuit of political aims tends to heighten or perhaps establish the correspondence between publicly directed violence and terrorism in American law, in Islamic law it tends to have the opposite effect. In other words, to the extent that a group declares itself or is deemed by the government to be acting in pursuit of political objectives (and the assumption here is that these are grounded in some interpretation of religion), their activity is actually less likely to fall under the law of hirabah. Second, the importance attached to numbers appears to be inversely proportional in the two systems. Under Islamic law, the greater the number of individuals involved in a prima facie act of terrorism, the less likely to fall under the laws of hirabah. By comparison, according to FBI guidelines issued in 1983, a terrorism investigation may not even be initiated unless circumstances indicate that two or more persons are involved in an offense. Third, hirabah, at least in its fully developed form, appears to be potentially a much broader category than terrorism proper, covering as it does a spectrum of crimes ranging from breaking and entering to "hate crimes" to rape to terrorism proper. (pp. 293-294, emphasis added)
- 1) If a group has legitimate (in the eyes of Islam) political aims, such as al-Qaeda's call to reestablish to global Islamic caliphate or groups like the Muslim Brotherhood trying to overthrow secular Arab leaders to reinstitute shari'a or inflict a "civilization-jihadist process" to undermine the West for establishing Islamic governments, the use of hiraba for terrorism is not warranted;
- 2) The more members a group has, such as al-Qaeda's international network of thousands of individuals or the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in more than 70 countries, the more legitimate their claims become and the application of hiraba for their actions does not hold;
- 3) Hiraba is a malleable category in which Jackson is trying to make terrorism fit. But the scholarly interpretations that he relies upon nowhere seem to contemplate the equation of hiraba for terrorism in its contemporary understanding.
There were essentially two major considerations on the basis of which an act of hirabah was to be distinguished from an act of baghy, or rebellion....The first of these considerations was that the rebels be motivated by what jurists referred to as a ta'wil, or "a plausible interpretation" that might justify, at least in their minds, rebellion as a means of redress or of carrying out the Qur'anic imperative to command what is good and forbid what is evil. It does not matter if the interpretation is "wrong" or even heterodox; what matters is that it be plausible; that the language of the Qur'an and/or Sunna or the circumstantial and contextual indicators surrounding this language could accommodate such a reading. In fact, the focus of the rebels' interpretation might even be purely "political" as opposed to religious.... In sum, it is essentially the appearance or the rebels' insistence that their actions are based on their understanding of their duty as Muslims that confers upon these actions the status of "political speech." This sets them apart from criminal acts of hirabah.The second stipulation was that the rebels be backed by a sufficient level of force (shawkah), measured mainly in numbers and military preparedness. The jurists differed on this number. The 7th/13th century al-Qarafi notes that a number of jurists placed it at ten.... This stipulation has the effect of reserving the more lenient law of rebellion for the most serious and widespread cases of public disaffection. That is to say, the gieivances that allegedly prompt a group to rebel must be serious and widespread enough to enlist the support of significant numbers of people. Otherwise, small groups of extremists, sophomoric idealists, prurient bandits or terrorists will be denied the refuge afforded by the law of rebellion and be treated under the more severe and salutary law of hirabah. (pp. 302-303, emphasis added)
- 1) If the rebels are acting under what they themselves understand to be a "reasonable" interpretation of Islamic law, such as those many fatwas issued by Islamic scholars throughout the Muslim world permitting attacks against the US;
- 2) If they are well-coordinated and use sufficient force, such as ramming fuel-laden airliners into military headquarters, government offices or skyscrapers.
Indeed, a number of early jurists had associated hirabah with the activities of groups who had formally apostatized and resorted to violence in an attempt to overthrow the Islamic social and political order. (p. 305)
...these jurists confirm that hirabah is distinguished by its connection to the spreading of fear (ikhafah) and helplessness (àdam al-ghawth) and the fact that no effective security measures can be taken against it (taàdhdhur al-ihtiraz). (p. 296)
In war our main objective is the opponent's heart or soul, our main weapon of offence against this objective is the strength of our own souls, and to launch such an attack, we have to keep terror away from our own hearts.... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent's heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him. ([Delhi, 1992], p. 59; emphasis added)
Thus the promoters of this theory of Hiraba and Mufsidoon are representing the views of classical Wahabis and the Muslim Brotherhood in their criticism of the "great leap forward" made by bin Laden. But by convincing Westerners that al Qaeda and its allies are not the real jihadists but some renegades, the advocates of this school would be causing the vision of Western defense to become blurred again so that more time could be gained by a larger, more powerful wave of Jihadism that is biding its time to strike when it chooses, under a coherent international leadership.